Parking decks, more so than any other public or semi-public structure, require careful placement within a historic and visually sensitive setting. We now have two such structures proposed for our city center, and in typical operating fashion, citizen input has not been solicited in either matter.
One parking deck is slated for the corner of Lawrence Street and Waddell Street. It will compete for visual dominance with the replica of the Cobb County courthouse knocked down in the 1950s and the Marietta City Hall and Government Complex. County acquisition of the seven-story office building for the parking deck reduced the City's tax digest by several million dollars.
The Downtown Marietta Development Authority, in a letter to the City Council, proposed its parking deck on Sept. 23. It is to be location at the corner of Mill Street and Loop 120. The idea for it originated in conversations conducted between the DMDA and City Councilman Van Pearlberg concerning the City "acquiring the Kennesaw House," and Councilwoman Holly Walquist "about a rooftop garden on a parking facility."
The parking lot behind the Krystal is the highest point on the Square and a parking deck at that location will hide the view of the old train station/Welcome Center, the Kennesaw House and spoil any invitation to visitors arriving from the west to enter downtown Marietta even with all the lipstick Ms. Walquist and the DMDA propose putting on it.
According to the letter this "world class facility" will "appear as an antebellum building" consisting of "period brick facing and architecture comparable with the immediate surroundings" and the " rooftop garden/park has unlimited possibilities to further the enjoyment of downtown Marietta visitors and customers and the cultural assets of downtown Marietta."
The DMDA proposes to deed Kennesaw House to the city in exchange for the city allowing the DMDA to erect parking meters downtown to fund the parking deck.
The beauty of Marietta's town square is its openness, airiness and quaintness. Any structures that overshadow and box in our city center are a big mistake. There are computer programs that allow planners to virtually insert structures into a sensitive area to show what pedestrians and occupants of vehicles will see from different vantage points. Why not give this a go before the DMDA makes yet another mistake that will take Marietta decades to overcome? It is ironic that a city that spends millions of tax dollars "beautifying" Roswell Street and other third and fourth-class roadways should be entertaining such a potentially destructive aesthetic idea.
In my opinion the long-term solution to the downtown parking problem consists of a free tram service that runs from a station and parking deck located on Waddell Street over a portion of the now defunct Winter Marietta LLC "Meeting Park" development. This site once belonged to the Marietta Housing Authority before it was foolishly sold for $8 million as part of the Tax Allocation District economic development fiasco.
The city and county should erect a parking deck on this property capable of meeting Marietta's needs for the next 30 years, and share the expense of running the electric trams.
The route for the trams would be a loop that follows Waddell Street north to Lemon Street, left to its intersection with Church Street, left across the square to Waverly Way, left to Atlanta Street, right to Waterman Street, and then left onto Waddell Street and back to the station and public parking deck. This site has a direct connection to the South Loop via Alexander Street.
Navigating Marietta is very confusing for newcomers to the downtown area. Automobile operators find the weird one-way street configuration not only baffling but also dangerous, and government services are scattered around town in so many different buildings, visitors are constantly begging other pedestrians for directions. The Tram operators can act as Marietta City Greeters directing lost souls to their desired destinations. Call it the Marietta Beltway.
As I suggested in an earlier article, the area next to the tram station and parking deck could be used for concerts, the farmer's market, race start/finish points, and street festivals that now shut down the Square and contribute to the overuse and abuse of Glover Park. This area could even be designed to accommodate both smokers and non-smokers.
Serious consideration of this idea will only happen if it becomes an election issue because powerful political and economic interests have another vision for downtown Marietta, and citizen input into DMDA proposals and decisions is not solicited. Ask the candidates to make an independent, professional assessment of the visual impact of the parking decks and the need for a public tram in downtown Marietta a part of their platform.
The alternative is to continue letting special interest groups make selfish short-term decisions that are resulting in a slow, agonizing death for the town square.
Larry Wills is a retired recycling consultant.